Friday, August 29, 2014

Great Cacophony: Liquor Prohibition; A Comparison between Nagaland and Kerala



As a Journalist and northeast watcher my first piece on Prohibition in Nagaland was published in 1990. Prohibition was a failed attempt in Nagaland and my apprehension that the misguided and outdated idea could boomerang also in Kerala.

 My father often ridicules me saying, I think like a Naga!
Nagas and Malaylis have been my weaknesses for varied reasons. While Nagas are a different lot and have unique virtue of their valiant tradition, respect for women, warmth and friendship, Malaylis (people from Kerala) to me have unique similarity with my own linguistic group, Bengalis, the Bongs, and often the follies. 

The uniqueness of Marxism mannerism, readiness to do anything in the name of job in ‘Gulfee’ – the pressure is deliberate – and the typical way of dealing with certain situation make me a familiar person among them. I call it crab-syndrome; we Bongs and Malaylis have tendency to run down our own people most!

Thus, this blog piece of mine on prohibition moves in Kerala by Oomen Chandy regime and drawing a similar campaign graph in far-off Nagaland in 1989-90 comes amid a number of contradictory dogmas. 

Firstly, I am reminded of a tale where in an author had once sent his first manuscript to the legendary, Dr. Samuel Johnson for his comments. Upon reading it, Dr. Johnson had remarked that it contained some good things and some new things. But he also added in his own trademark style: that the good things in the article were not new and the new things were not good.

To pass a most predictable verdict: that liquor prohibition could fail and possibly boomerang to a society in more ways than one, I would be saying something already spoken out and there’s hardly any ‘good’ in that argument.   
 Decades back, another legendary, this time an Indian, Sri Aurobindo had said: “The most vital issue of the age is whether the future progress of humanity is to be governed by the modern economic and materialistic mind of the West or by a nobler pragmatism guided, uplifted and enlightened by spiritual culture and knowledge”.

To me as a practicing Hindu with a soft-corner for ideological belief that for long Hindus have been discriminated in this sub-continent one way or the other, I must say, Christianity enviously offers a unique synthesis between the two materialistic pragmatism and an utopian dreams.

The demand for Prohibition either in Nagaland or in Kerala, to me, represents that conflict of a materialistic mind or pragmatism and the enlightened and an idealistic utopian situation.
I have been living witness to the campaign for Total Prohibition in Nagaland and as the law was enacted during the tenure of Congress (I) chief minister S C Jamir, now Odhisa Governor, I also saw how things had backfired.
The sale of India Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) simply flourished. You could name the brand and get it in an hour – only for an under the table payment!!
There is also a twist in the tale of enforcement of Prohibition laws in Nagaland. A revenue-starved state generally banking on generous funding from the centre lost its own share of revenue and that too in good amount.
Secondly, in Nagaland, the country liquor or rice beer popularly called ‘Madhu (meaning Honey in local lingua-franca Nagamese in the absence of any unified Naga language) could not be banned as it is a traditional drink. In fact, offering Madhu is part of Naga custom and a visitor is offered the booze any time in the day even as early as 8 am in the morning with a characteristic pastoral query: ‘madhu khabo (Why don’t you take a sip of our rice beer?).
Kerala or for that matter Malaylis (nicknamed Mallus) do not have such custom or tradition --- not that as a friend of Mallus I know about it.
But in terms of impact from revenue loss from liquor sale, it’s huge.
“Alcohol helps in giving Kerala's economy a good high - shockingly, more than 40% of revenues for its annual budget come from booze,” says a write up in BBC news website.

“Is Kerala Shooting Its Cash Cow?” ran a headline in Business Standard. In 2012-13, Kerala consumed 2.44 crore cases of Indian-made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and one crore cases of beer, by far, the largest in the country.

The state’s total revenue receipts in 2013-14 was Rs 54,966 crore. It still ran a deficit of Rs 6,208 crore. To lose another Rs 10,000 crore could mean a hangover of a different kind, says a media report.
Again as it has been a booming industry with perhaps minimum investment, now a pragmatic question that needs to be asked is: how much closing the liquour industry would result in unemployment or other related problems.
In Nagaland, it did affect employment sector especially a large number of younger lot and women. 
My contention therefore has been that prohibition is an outdated idea, too idealistic and bound to fail and boomerang at some stages.
Mere prohibitory laws would not be good enough to eradicate the problem and it would rather require personal motivation to curb deep rooted addiction. Moreover, the hooch tragedies often reported from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat could visit God’s own country as well.  My contention therefore has been that prohibition is an outdated idea, too idealistic and bound to fail and boomerang at some stages.
Mere prohibitory laws would not be good enough to eradicate the problem and it would rather require personal motivation to curb deep rooted addiction. Moreover, the hooch tragedies often reported from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat could visit God’s own country as well.  

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